I started this book a little over a month ago, had to put it down for a few weeks, read bits and pieces here and there, and finally read the last 2/3s of it this week. Yesterday I couldn’t put the book down, but when I got to the ending I wanted to say every curse word that I could think of (actually not want–I did). WHAT?!?!?!?! I’m going to have to vent about the ending for at least a little bit, but I’ll try to avoid too many big spoilers until then.
Tess is the eldest child of a country family, the Durbeyfields, who has recently found out that they are decedents of a noble family line that is otherwise extinct (the D’Urbervilles). The patriarch of the family is wayward and can’t fully support the family as he prefers his drink, so Tess is sent to apply to their only other D’Urberville relatives–who incidentally have purchased the name and are not truly related to the Durbeyfields.
Upon meeting Alec D’Urberville, Tess is in a way swept off her feet and makes an ill-informed decision that changes her life. In the aftermath of the consequences, Tess leaves her home to work as a dairymaid where she meets Angel with whom she falls in love. Angel proposes to Tess but she refuses because of her “secret” past, but Angel tries unrelentlessly to convince Tess to marry him. But can Angel handle Tess’s secret? Will he be able to forgive her for what she has done in her past? Will poor Tess pay forever for a mistake she made during her otherwise innocent childhood?
I immediately fell in love with Hardy’s beautiful descriptions in this book. His sense of place and the way he is able to bring everything alive reminded me a lot of Emily Bronte’s use imagery in Wuthering Heights–part of the reason why I love her little novel so much. Even though it took
some a lot of time to get into the rhythm of the book, the passages and narrative became easy for me to devour and get lost in. These are things that so far I have not been able to find in Austen’s books (although maybe I haven’t read enough of them), and I really cherished the richness of this book. This is one that I could read again and pick up a lot–I’m sure I really only skimmed the surface of this one and could learn so much more about the characters as well as some of the social situations in the country during this time period.
Another thing that I really loved about this book is that I could never guess what was going to happen. It would seem that everything was falling into place for Tess and what could Hardy possible write for the next 300, 200, 100 pages, but this book was a continual roller coaster of drama. I’m not sure that I really like Tess–I wish she was stronger than she is. And I never really trusted either of the male characters, Alec and Angel, although at times I really wanted to like one or the other. But even though I wish I could have slapped Tess out of some of her decisions, her despair and heartache were palpable, which made this story real to me.
While I thought really highly of the first 350/369 pages (give or take a few sections), when I got to the ending when Tess is with Alec and Angel comes back I couldn’t believe what happened! The ending to me didn’t fit with the rest of the novel and seemed to me to fit more in a crime novel than a beautiful sweeping tragedy. I was shocked at first when Tess stabbed Alec but then she runs away with Angel as if he had not just abandoned her for over a year (foggy on the time line)? And then the ending at Stonehenge? Really? Honestly, I felt that I was duped and betrayed and taken for a cheap ride. Seriously. Seriously? Basically, I truly loathed the ending of this book. :) Please someone help me understand!!
Despite the crackpot ending I really enjoyed reading this book. I would recommend it, but I can see how some might be turned off by the long descriptions of the landscape and surroundings and menial daily tasks, etc. But apart from all of that it was a book that drew me in from the beginning and kept my interest all the way until the last page (my taking over a month to read the book has more to do with life than the book–it was too heavy for the busyness that was my July). I don’t think I’ll be picking up another Hardy book for a while, but this one will certainly stay with me for a long time.